There is only one moment in which Rugby League supporters across Australia can come together as one and get behind a single team.
No, I’m not talking about the team that is playing against the Sydney Roosters on any given weekend…I’m not talking about the NRL at all. I’m talking about the Australian Kangaroos, our nations most successful international sporting team.
There is so much focus on the NRL competition and State Of Origin football that I feel as though the NRL is missing a chance to build something special with the Australian Kangaroos.
When the Australian team plays it is the games elite players coming together on one field, in one team, and they almost always put on an amazing display of Rugby League that on any give day can turn into a masterclass of what is possible in this game.
As the NRL moves towards a different model in terms of the way elite players get payed, will we see them look to get back their investment via the only team that the NRL actually completely owns and completely controls?
There are two issues that the Australian Kanraoos have…
The first is pretty simple. There isn’t a great deal of consistent opposition to play again.
New Zealand can put on a decent game here and there, and once every 8 years or so they can even do something really special that tests the Australian side. For the most part though New Zealand is really disappointing. For all the Haka’s, for all the talk of nations pride, there are simply too many games in which New Zealand fails to turn up ready to play.
20 years ago you could forgive them. The talent pool they were drawing on wasn’t all that big. These day though New Zealand produces so much elite talent that there are no excuses.
It is even worse with the England team who go between disappointing and totally out matches, to playing so badly that you sometimes watch them getting destroyed by Australia and know you are watching Rugby Leagues international credibility being damaged right before you eyes.
Below New Zealand and England other Rugby League nations simply struggle for playing talent right now. Things are changing, the likes of Fiji are starting to produce a number of NRL level players who will slowly evolve into a decent international team, but it will take a while before anyone else can even think of stepping up to the Kangaroos level.
The second issue is that international Rugby League is really hard to turn a profit in. For all the talk that the last two World Cup made money…where did it go? What happened to the supposed million of dollars that the 2008 and 2013 made? Who controls it? Who spends it? That money seems to just disappear.
When you buy a ticket to watch Australia play you are not assured of watching a great contest. I might enjoy watching England get annihilated time after time, but most people want to see a contest. The growth in interest in international Rugby League ins’t dependent on someone like me who has watched a grainy live stream of a World Cup qualifier between Lebanon and Wales with great interest. It is dependent on drawing in the casual sports fan that just wants to see a good close contest and have a new team they can cheer for. If you can’t offer them that, they’ll go and watch something else.
The two points above make it difficult for the NRL to invest too much money into the Australian Kangaroos brand, but there is still an opportunity there to take advantage of in terms of marketing.
The likes of Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Jarryd Hayne…when we think of these players we should think of them wearing the green and gold. When the game uses these players to market the sport we should proudly declare that these are our Australian test stars who represent out states and our clubs.
Yes these players have commitments at NRL level, but our games elite stars want to be part of something bigger.
Imagine a press conference in which Inglis, Thurston, Smith and Hayne were up front and center. Our games best players all wearing our national jersey, all representatives of the Kangaroos, all ready to answer the questions that we want to hear our elite players answer. What a powerful marketing opportunity that would be for our sport.
You see, marketing the Australian Kangaroos brand isn’t just about playing games. It is about promoting the games elite talent. It is about putting a standard mark on what it is to be the best of the best. That elite group of talent that doesn’t just play one or two tests for Australia, but those players our test side is built around and who carry the green and gold standard into battle.
Our games elite players want to be part of something big. They want to have an impact beyond their own clubs and beyond their own states. They want to build their own brands, they want to make more money, they want to be able to say they are part of something that is instantly recognizable as being part of sports elite.
I think the NRL now has the perfect opportunity to take the Australian Kangaroos and turn them into the national sporting team we have deserved for a long time now. The Kangaroos should be far more than a representative team that you get called into. It should be a sign that you have made it as one of the games best.
If you gave our games best players the opportunity to become something bigger, they will grasp it with both hands. If you reward them for their time and effort, they will not hesitate to get out there in the media and proudly represent the entire sport as an Australian Kangaroo.
The NRL needs to focus on the one sporting team and the one sporting brand we can get behind. The NRL is great, State Of Origin is amazing…but only the Australian Kangaroos can truly claim to be everything that is best about the great game of Rugby League.